Dwarf Fortress financials mark fairytale ending for indie developer
Bay 12 Games made $7 million in January after releasing Dwarf Fortress on Steam and itchBy Daniel Sims 8 comments
In a nutshell: Various tech giants like Meta, Google, Amazon, and Apple posted negative quarterly and annual statements this week. Amidst the corporate gloom, it's nice to see financials that tell a hopeful story for a small company, especially one behind a game as popular as Dwarf Fortress.
A month after the first commercial release of Dwarf Fortress, the game's developer revealed this week that it earned $7.23 million in sales. According to Bay 12 Games' comparison, the number eclipses returns from the previous four months by two decimal points.
In each of the months between September and December 2022, Bay 12 Games brought in around $15,000, most of it likely from Patreon donations. After offering the immensely popular Dwarf Fortress exclusively as freeware for 16 years, the company released the first commercial version on December 6, and a few weeks later posted the astronomical January increase.
In a post on the Bay 12 forums, the developers say almost half of the money will pay taxes. However, after business expenses and payrolls, what's left is easily enough to relieve the scare that initially pushed the Dwarf Fortress developers – brothers Zach and Tarn Adams – toward the paid release model.
In 2019, Zach needed treatment for skin cancer. Luckily, his wife's insurance softened the $10,000 blow, but a similar situation would've been disastrous had it happened to Tarn. To build a financial safety net, the brothers decided to prepare a commercial version of Dwarf Fortress with enhanced graphics and tutorials for new players (while maintaining the free version for hardcore fans).
The payout means the brothers don't have to worry as much about health and retirement. They also announced that they're bringing a new employee to work on the full code.
For those unfamiliar, Dwarf Fortress is a notoriously deep and complex simulation game where players manage a group of dwarfs trying to survive and build a fortress. The title is known for dynamically calculating extremely granular aspects of its world and characters like health statuses, moods, body parts, and entire histories.
By default, the free version displays all its graphics in ASCII, and its gameplay can be intimidating for many. The paid version, available on Steam and itch.io for $30, is more accessible but will receive updates in parity with the free edition.